Xi's visit leads China-Arab friendship to go deeper into local people's hearts
A diplomatic victory in Middle East
Published: Dec 11, 2022 11:00 PM Updated: Dec 11, 2022 10:51 PM
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony held by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud on behalf of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 8, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony held by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud on behalf of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 8, 2022. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Saudi Arabia and his attendance at the first China-Arab States Summit and China-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit have made "China" a word frequently mentioned in the Arab world in recent days.

From TV shows about Xi's visit and China-Arab relations on various local channels airing from morning till night to warm responses from people from all walks of life in Saudi Arabia and the region, to President Xi's signed article and speeches, and to local Riyadh residents' enthusiastic greetings of a friendly "nihao (hello)," the Chinese president's visit has shown that during Xi's trip of "opening up a better future," the China-Arab friendship has deepened and ingrained itself into the hearts of the local people.

Grand welcome

The day after President Xi arrived in Riyadh for a state visit to Saudi Arabia, when the Global Times reporters visited Nada Saad Hussain Al Sulaiman, a sophomore majoring in business Chinese at Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University, her family was watching a TV news program focusing on Xi's visit. Nada's husband Turki Abdullah Alsulaiman, a colonel of the Royal Saudi Air Force, excitedly showed the visiting reporters video clips featuring the grand and warm reception Xi received at the King Khalid International Airport. "I believe this is the highest-level form of welcome in our country for the most distinguished guest," he repeatedly told the Global Times.

A view of Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. Photo: VCG

A view of Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. Photo: VCG

On Wednesday afternoon, Xi's plane was escorted by four fighter jets from the Royal Saudi Air Force after it entered Saudi airspace, and by six Saudi Hawk jets from the royal aerobatic team after it entered capital Riyadh's airspace. When the plane landed at the Airport, a 21-gun salute heralded Xi's arrival. The Saudi Hawks painted the sky red and yellow, the colors of China's national flag. On Thursday, a grand ceremony was held for the Chinese leader as he was warmly received by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud on behalf of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at the royal palace in Riyadh.

During the visit, Xi published a signed article entitled "Carrying Forward Our Millennia-old Friendship and Jointly Creating a Better Future" in the Saudi newspaper Al Riyadh. "Designed as a trip of building on the past and more importantly, of opening up a better future, the visit will carry forward our traditional friendship, and usher in a new era in China's relations with the Arab world, with Arab states of the Gulf, and with Saudi Arabia," Xi wrote.

Mohammad Altowaim, a member of the Saudi Chinese Business Council, told the Global Times that he read Xi's article carefully twice, and the second time he read it to his friends, he read it loud.

"The most important message conveyed in the article is that China is a peaceful country wishing for peace for the whole world," he said.

According to Mohammad, through Xi's article, the Saudi people could feel that China is not in the Middle East to play power politics games, but is here to help local people. He noted that different from some other countries which came to the Middle East to play geopolitical games, China takes quite a different approach.

Kong Dequan, a Chinese national residing in Riyadh who runs a Bed and Breakfast, a small lodging establishment that offers overnight accommodation and breakfast, told the Global Times that reports and video clips about Xi's visit overwhelmed WeChat groups in which he is a member, and which contain both Chinese nationals in Saudi Arabia and local Saudi friends, on the day Xi landed in the country. He said the overseas Chinese community could benefit from the growing strength and prosperity of China.

"China has become stronger, but the Saudis do not fear China as they do the US. They like and welcome China, and this is our advantage over the US," Kong said, noting he felt good that China respects the local people.

Precious memory

Xi's visit is of special significance to Nada as a Chinese learner in Saudi Arabia. She was one of the co-authors of a letter to Xi who received a letter of reply from the Chinese leader. In the reply letter, the Chinese president encouraged Saudi youth to learn Chinese well and make new contributions to the strengthening of China-Saudi Arabia and China-Arab friendship. "This is a precious memory to cherish for a lifetime," she told the Global Times.

"I am coming back to Riyadh, bringing with me profound friendship from the Chinese people," said Xi in his article in Al Riyadh. In 2016 when Xi visited Saudi Arabia, the two countries agreed to elevate the bilateral relationship into a comprehensive strategic partnership. Since then, the friendship between the two countries has prospered.

In the Murabba Palace, a historically notable structure in Riyadh, Abdullah S. Alotaibi, Dir of the Memorial Hall and the Murabaa Palace, told the Global Times that he still remembers every detail from Xi's visit to the Murabba Palace in the company of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia on January 20, 2016. He said the Murabba Palace witnessed the friendship between China and Saudi Arabia, and Xi's visit to the country this time would definitely elevate bilateral relations to a new level.

The King Saud University in Saudi Arabia conferred President Xi Jinping with an honorary doctorate degree on Thursday in recognition of his remarkable achievements in national governance and the key contributions he has made to bilateral friendship and cooperation. The efforts made by President Xi to lead China and manage the entire situation are remarkable, said Mohammad.

A Saudi Arabian educator at King Saud University who requested to remain anonymous told the Global Times that what Saudi Arabians have seen of China supporting their country is beautiful.

"How can we be less than extremely happy to have received such a guest of honor, who came to my country to show solidarity, and the principle of giving and providing, and to say here we are to work together to do a lot for the world?" the educator asked.

Abdullah Albasri, a student majoring in Chinese who just graduated from the King Saud University, told the Global Times that his country did try to give the distinguished guest what is the best. "China is Saudi Arabia's good friend and largest trading partner; Xi's visit will make bilateral relations more prosperous," he said.

Popular initiatives

On Friday, when delivering a keynote speech at the first China-Arab summit, Xi called on China and the Arab states to carry forward the spirit of China-Arab friendship and foster a closer China-Arab community with a shared future, so as to deliver greater benefits to their peoples, and advance the cause of human progress. He also called on China and GCC countries to be partners in promoting unity, development, security, and civilization at the China-GCC summit.

Xi said China will work with the Arab side to implement the (China-proposed) Global Development Initiative (GDI) and drive the sustainable development of the South-South cooperation. He also said Arab countries are welcome to participate in the Global Security Initiative (GSI, also proposed by China), noting that China will continue to contribute Chinese wisdom to the promotion of peace and tranquility in the Middle East.

Mohammad said the GDI and GSI are the best examples of how China wants to deal with the world. The two initiatives show that China wants to deal with the world not through arms, but through win-win development. The people in the Middle East are tired of other countries' interference, because they always come with troubles, he said. He noted that the Chinese way of engaging with Africa - doing everything to help the people in Africa to bolster infrastructure without forcing people to turn away from their own cultures - makes people believe that the win-win scenario could be even stronger in the Middle East.

There are complementarities in the relationship between China and Saudi Arabia. One of the important characteristics of China-Saudi Arabia relations is mutually beneficial cooperation and equality. "China and Saudi Arabia treat each other with equality and mutual respect. This is different from the West which always treats Middle Eastern countries with condescension," said Wang Guangda, secretary-general of the China-Arab Research Center on Reform and Development at the Shanghai International Studies University.

Wang believed that countries in the region are fully aware of the US and West's hegemonic behaviors in the region. He said the enhancement of China-Saudi Arabia and China-Arab relations is a victory for Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy in the Middle East region, a reflection of regional recognition of China's promotion of building a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, equality and justice, win-win cooperation and building a China-Arab community with a shared future.

It rained on the days President Xi arrived in and left Riyadh, where rains are valuable, indicating China-Saudi Arabian relations and China-Arab relations, which are as precious as rainwater, will become even closer, local residents said.